Rolling Stone names 10 Alabama-connected artists the best singers of all time

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Country music legend, in our hearts forever (Hank Williams – Country Legend / Facebook)

Since 2008 Rolling Stone has published their highly anticipated list of the 200 best singers of all time. This year, ten artists with a connection to Alabama made that list. Read more below to see if your favorite singer made the list.

1. Hank Williams Sr.

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Voting to bring back dramatic country outfits in 2023 (Hank Williams – Country Legend / Facebook)

The highest-born Alabamian on the list, Mount Olive-born country artist Hank Williams was named no. 30 on this year’s list. Despite passing away at the young age of 29, his influence has lived on in some of your favorite artists like The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and more. Read what Rolling Stone had to say about one of our favorite country stars.

When he sang “What, you got cookin’?” in “Hey, Good Lookin’,” his exuberant and drawn-out what communicated a novel’s worth of backstory about the song’s aggressively flirtatious narrator. Or the salvation in his trembling cool when he sings “Cool Water.” Why are Hank Williams’ songs still country standards, nearly 75 years later? A huge part of the reason is how the country legend first delivered them. —J.B.

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

2. Aretha Franklin

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Franklin performing at the 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 (Aretha Franklin / Facebook)

Topping out at number one, Lady Soul has enchanted our radio waves for decades. Although born in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin spent many trips down to Muscle Shoals to record her music. Read below why Rolling Stone named The Queen of Soul the greatest singer of all time.

Aretha went to Muscle Shoals and became Lady Soul, creating her own raw, intense R&B sound. She forced the mainstream to cross over to her, changing the way music sounded ever since, all over the world. Her genius has taken so many forms: 1970s gospel, 1980s glam-disco, her collabos with disciples like Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. Or the night she stole the Grammys, singing “Nessun Dorma” without a rehearsal. 

But whatever she sang, she claimed it as her own. And as long as you live, you’ll never hear anything like Aretha Franklin. That’s why her voice still goes right on changing the world. Singer of singers. Queen of queens. All hail Lady Soul. —R.S.

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

3. Wilson Pickett

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Wilson Pickett, prime progenitor of funk (Wilson Pickett / Facebook)

Growing up in Prattville, Alabama before getting his big break in Detroit, Mi–Pickett was known to participate in local church choirs. Some of your favorite Pickett songs were recorded in Muscle Shoals, like “Land of 1,000 Dances” and “Mustang Sally.”

Few Sixties R&B stars had as propulsive a shout as Wilson Pickett — a late-night lover and a prime progenitor of funk. Singing gospel as a young man, Pickett said, “I got the sound that I would use as the basis for my whole style of vocalizing. I used that wild, abandoned style of singing and put it into the context of soul. … Singing in church has given me a certain feeling for music.”

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

4. Rod Stewart

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What’s your favorite Rod Stewart song? (Rod Stewart / Facebook)

Ranked no. 49, just barely making the top 50, Stewart first recorded “I’d Rather Go Blind” with Etta James at Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, AL in the late 60s. See what Rolling Stone had to say about the rock-pop singer below.

Stewart can break your heart while singing as a good-time rounder, can make you wince or smirk with equal facility — when he’s on, he can make ordinary material sound as good as a new suit. And when the material’s great, he’s irresistible.–M.M

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

5. Emmylou Harris

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Angelic country harmonies are Harris’ trademark (Emmylou Harris / Facebook)

Ranked no. 79 on this year’s list, Emmylou Harris was born in Birmingham, Alabama before growing up in other southern states like North Carolina and Virginia. Harris was honored in 2008 by being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for her angelic and harmonious contributions to the genre.

 In the 50 years since, she’s added her own angelic counter-harmony lines to hundreds of records by everyone from Bright Eyes to Willie Nelson, while shining as a lead vocalist on her own records. It’s the way she uses breathing and space on the country classic “Together Again,” or the way her phrasing accents the desolate heartbreak of “I Still Miss Someone,” or the way she deploys range and falsetto to further the lonely narrative of “Orphan Girl.”

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

6. George Michael

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The teen idol turned pop master will live in our hearts forever (George Michael / Facebook)

Whether it’s the teen song you loved or the heartbreaking Christmas song you listen to everiday season, George Michael has more than earned his spot at no. 62. Michael found his way to Muscle Shoals at the beginning of his solo career, recording the first version of ‘Careless Whisper’ in their studio before re-recording it in England.

The teen idol turned soul-pop master had a supple, yet strong tenor that could handle nearly anything thrown his way — the anguish of “Careless Whisper,” the motivational gospel-pop of “Freedom! ’90,” the steely-eyed protest of “Praying for Time,” the genre-spanning covers he tossed into his live sets.

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

7. Martha Reeves

Coming out at 151 on the list Martha Reeves was best known as the lead vocalist for Martha and the Vandellas. She was born in Eufaula, Alabama before moving to Detroit, Michigan at an early age. Rolling Stone says it best, Reeves was a powerhouse!

Diana Ross and the Supremes were sweet, but Martha and the Vandellas were powerful, starting with their lead singer. Martha Reeves’ gleeful, girlish, gritty voice cut straight through the airy harmonies of her group mates. — M.M

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

8. Odetta

Before her family moved to Los Angeles, Odetta was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Being trained in opera but raised in folk–this Alabama-born singer was able to tackle jazz, and the blues before being crowned the “queen of American folk music.”

Odetta’s prowess was as rooted in her voice’s force and resolve as it was in her interpretative skill, which forced listeners to pay close attention to every syllable that she sang. “Few … possess that fine understanding of a song’s meaning which transforms it from a melody into a dramatic experience,” Harry Belafonte wrote in the liner notes for her 1959 album My Eyes Have Seen. —M.J.

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

9. Willie Nelson

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Two country icons side by side (Willie Nelson / Facebook)

From singing with Dolly Parton at her Christmas celebration to joining newcomers like Kacey Musgraves–Nelson doesn’t look like he’s ready to stop anytime soon. Ranked no. 54 on this year’s list, Wilson recorded his 17th studio album, Phases and Stages, in Muscle Shoals with producer Jerry Wixler

As the Red Headed Stranger himself once put it, “I never pretended to have a great voice. It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.” In fact, that kind of laid-back understatement is a huge part of what makes the country legend so great. For more than six decades, Willie Nelson’s unique baritone is plain-spoken yet complex, slightly nasal yet welcoming, earthy yet sophisticated. — J.G

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

10. Bob Segar

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Did you know about Bob Segar’s connection to Alabama? (Bob Segar / Facebook)

On the lower end of the list, Bob Segar with his classic rock and roll feel ranks 181 as one of the greatest singers of all time. Segar worked with “The Swampers” more than any other artist and recorded many of his timeless songs at the studio in Muscle Shoals.

Bob Seger came from the Detroit tradition of “Old Time Rock & Roll,” but he didn’t use his mighty voice to boast or strut — he specialized in tales of hard-luck losers and dreamers, with a grown-up hurt in his growl. – R.S

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

11. Jimmie Rogers

Jimmie Rogers, born in Geiger, Alabama became known as the “father. of country music.” It’s been 90 years since Rogers’ unexpected passing, yet his voice and songs continue to thrive.

Jimmie Rodgers wasn’t an overpowering singer but an amazingly sly one — even through the crackle of aged shellac, he comes on like the sharpest, hippest guy in the room. That didn’t mean there wasn’t feeling there: His Blue Yodel series, the records that made him a legend, are imbued with the high-lonesome sound that was his trademark. – M.M

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

12. Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen duet at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Bob Dylan / Facebook)

Last but certainly not least, coming in at no. 15 on this year’s list, Dylan recorded two of his most controversial albums at the studio in Muscle Shoals. Classic fans and new listeners continue to be captivated by Dylan’s unique voice.

To some listeners, Bob Dylan’s voice, especially the wheezy and/or aggressively twangy strains he favored in his early years, will always sound like a caricature of itself. But the confidence with which he owned his ugly-duckling delivery, and shaped it into something as expressive as his wildly inventive lyrics, has made him one of America’s great vocal eccentrics. – H.S

Rolling Stone, 200 Best Singers of All Time

Which Alabama singer would you add to Rolling Stone’s Greatest Singers of All Time list?

Bonus: 7 famous artists who have recorded in Alabama, including The Rolling Stones

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Taylor Stewart
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